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In Matthew 27:46, Jesus says:

why hast thou forsaken me?
ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες
[ why(5×), wherefore(1×) ]

Mark 15:34 has:

why hast thou forsaken me?
εἰς τί με ἐγκατέλιπές
[ what (260×), who (102×), why (66×), … ]

LXX Psalm 22:1 has:

ἵνα τί ἐγκατέλιπές

Questions:

  • Matthew and Mark were translating Jesus's use of an Aramaic translation of the original Hebrew of Psalm 22.
    Is there any significance to their different choices of the Greek words translated as "why"?

  • More significantly, why in both cases did the English translators choose "why" rather than "wherefore" (which Matthew uses 13 times elsewhere)?

Jesus appears to be asking what caused God to forsake him, not what purpose it served.


Note:

Today, the words "why" and "wherefore" are combined into "why", but they originally had significantly different meanings.

We still say "the whys and wherefores", and certainly Shakespeare, at the time the KJV was written, knew the difference when he wrote "wherefore art thou Romeo?" (which loosely translates to today's "why the bleep did you have to be that Romeo?") when Juliette contemplates how fate is conspiring against them.

  • "Wherefore" asks about purpose, motive, or goal. (The kettle is boiling because I'm about to make tea.)
  • "Why" asks about cause. (The kettle is boiling because the heat radiated from the kettle is less than the heat supplied by the flame, with the excess energy changing some of the water from liquid to gaseous state.)
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    I am not sure that modern English makes this distinction any longer - hence the same translation in modern English.
    – Dottard
    Nov 14, 2023 at 5:37
  • "Jesus appears to be asking what caused God to forsake him, not what purpose it served." -- But if he was reciting Psalm 22 maybe he was simply identifying with the emotions of the psalmist. (I don't pretend to know for certain) Nov 14, 2023 at 15:19

3 Answers 3

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There are two considerations in approaching an answer to this question.

Challenge 1: The contrast between Hellenic and Hellenistic Greek

Decades ago, when I was taught Greek (as we walked through Herodotus, Xenophon, etc.) we were taught that there was a real difference between a purpose/final clause (with ινα) and a result clause (with ωστε).

Then, as we transitioned into the Koine age, we almost despaired to learn that so many of these clear-cut distinctions fell away. Instead of hearing about the distinction between final and result, we would hear "intended result" (blobbing the two uses together). And in recent years, it's interesting to hear simply of "object clauses." This further blurs the lines.

In actual usage there are many different words/particles that Koine Greek uses to show purpose/result:

  • ⲓⲛⲁ
  • ⲱⲥⲧⲉ (after all, this just simply means, "and so.")
  • ⲟⲩⲛ
  • ⲁⲣⲁ
  • ⲉⲓⲥ ⲧⲟ
  • ⲉⲛⲉⲕⲉⲛ

And these are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Challenge 2: The interaction of English and Hellenistic Greek

In theory, in antiquated usage, there might be a distinction between why and wherefore. But, Dottard is right. If that distinction ever existed, it fell away in English long ago. But even more than that, I wonder if there's the danger of imposing an English template of understanding and usage onto Greek usage. It's far better to read through lots of NT Greek so that you get a feel for what clauses are doing and not doing.

So, I suggest a better approach: Context (as also Dottard alluded to) is king. Individual words will rarely give you the meaning you need. How, however, the words hold together as a whole will give you a better understanding.

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There are actually quite a number of differences between the reported speech of Jesus between Matthew and Mark. Here I list a few of the salient ones with Matthew reported first:

  1. Different Transliteration: Ἠλὶ (eli), vs. Ἐλωῒ (eloi)
  2. Vocative vs Nominative: Θεέ (vocative), vs. Ὁ Θεός (nominative for vocative)
  3. Different Conjunction: ἵνα (so that), vs. εἰς (in/to)

Note that the interrogative τί (ti) = "why" is the same in both cases. Its meaning is broad and includes, Who?, Which (one)? What? Why? How?

These differences make no discernible difference in translation.

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Shem Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew Matthew 27:46

יֵשׁוּ צָעַק בְּקוֹל גָּדוֹל אוֹמֵר בִּלְשׁוֹן הַקּוֹדֶשׁ אֵלִי אֵלִי לָמָה עֲזַבְתָּנִי‏

יֵשׁוּ (Yeshu) – J esus צָעַק (tsa'ak) - cried out בְּקוֹל (be'kol) - with a loud voice גָּדוֹל (gadol) - great אוֹמֵר (omer) - saying בִּלְשׁוֹן (bilshon) - in the language הַקּוֹדֶשׁ (ha'kodesh) - the holy אֵלִי (Eli) - My God אֵלִי (Eli) - My God לָמָה (lama) - why עֲזַבְתָּנִי (azavtani) - have you forsaken me

WTT Psalm 22:2

אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי רָח֥וֹק מִֽ֜ישׁוּעָתִ֗י דִּבְרֵ֥י שַׁאֲגָתִֽי׃

אֵלִ֣י (Eli) - My God אֵ֭לִי (Eli) - My God לָמָ֣ה (Lama) - why עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי (Azavtani) - have you forsaken me רָח֥וֹק (Rachok) - far מִֽ֜ישׁוּעָתִ֗י (Mishu'ati) - from my salvation דִּבְרֵ֥י (Dibrei) - the words שַׁאֲגָתִֽי (Sha'agati) - of my groaning

Matthew. 27:46

περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων• ηλι ηλι λεμα σαβαχθανι; τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν• θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες;

But about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' That is, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Mark. 15:34

καὶ τῇ ἐνάτῃ ὥρᾳ ἐβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ• ελωι ελωι λεμα σαβαχθανι; ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον• ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με;

And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which is translated, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Psalm 21:1 LXX

εἰς τὸ τέλος ὑπὲρ τῆς ἀντιλήμψεως τῆς ἑωθινῆς ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυιδ 2 ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός μου πρόσχες μοι ἵνα τί ἐγκατέλιπές με μακρὰν ἀπὸ τῆς σωτηρίας μου οἱ λόγοι τῶν παραπτωμάτων μου

Unto the end, for the acknowledgment of the morning, a Psalm of David 2. O God, my God, attend to me; why have you forsaken me, being far from my salvation, the words of my transgressions?

Beza M-05A Matthew 27:46

περι δε την εννατην ωραν ανεβοησεν Ι̅Η̅Σ̅ φωνη μεγαλη λεγων Ηλει Ηλει λαμα ζ̣αφθανει Τουτ εστιν Θ̅Ε̅ μου Θ̅Ε̅ μου ινα τι με ενκατελιπες

Beza M-05A Mark 15:34

Και τη ενατη ωρα εφωνησεν φωνη μεγαλη Ηλει Ηλει λαμα ζαφθανει Ο εστιν μεθερμηνευομενον Ο Θ̅Σ̅ μου ο Θ̅Σ̅ μου εις τι ωνιδισας με

Peshitta

We can read in our Bible: "eli eli lema sabachtani," as well as "eloi eloi lama sabaktani." But there is also the reading from the Peshitta: "eil eil lmana shvaqtan," and even a Hebrew reading (D 05 Codex): "Elei Elei lama zaphtanei" (both in Matthew and Mark).

  1. "Eli" is Hebrew, Aramaic, but also appears in the Aramaic text from Qumran called Genesis Apocryphon.
  2. "Lama" is Hebrew, but as the vocalic reduction had not been completed in the first century, this distinction with the Aramaic "lema" did not yet exist (= it was pronounced lama in Aramaic, as we can see a parallel in Greek, the transcription of which "for whom" is written as "laman" instead of the well-known Leman).
  3. "Sabaktani" is Aramaic; the "s" transcribes the sound "sh," and "b" the bilabial "v" sound, there is no problem with that.

Jesus said on the cross: ELI ELI LAMA SHAVAQTANI

But why do we have "eloi" in some Gospels? The Peshitta gives us the answer: this phrase was "translated" into another dialect: eil eil lmana shvaqtan (meaning) alah alah lmana shvaqtan. There was confusion between Jesus' words and their brilliance in the Greek text. "Eloi" is the transliteration of Elohi, which is a Hebraized form of elahi. On the other hand, the Peshitta retained the record of this brilliance (unlike the ancient Syrians who followed the Greek texts), despite being written in an eastern dialect (which explains the difference in pronunciation).

The variation between "ἱνατί" (Matthew 27:46) and "εἰς τί" (Mark 15:34) may have occurred due to the possibility of a third translation, such as "Eli, eli, la-ma shavaqtani: 'My God, my God, for what purpose (with this intention, namely, the crucifixion) have you forsaken me.'" Instead of "lama" (why?), we can read "la ma" (l + ma) for this, and there is no longer a question about why God did something, but rather Jesus' final testimony about his mission.

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